Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Marching Out On a Social Media Note

It's been a social-media kind of day here at Inside Edge PR international headquarters.

Walked a block down the street to Marion Street Cheese Market, where I shared some pointers on how to navigate on Facebook, LinkedIn and the like, at "Social Networking Sites--Are You Connected?"

Shared photos and some text with Triblocal.com,as well as with Helen Karakoudas at the Wednesday Journal of Oak Park and River Forest.

Later in the day, I learned from my social-media mentor, Sherri Lasko, that creating a Facebook Fan page is a piece of cake.

So now, as of 11 p.m., the Inside Edge PR fan base tally is on the verge of breaking into double-digits. For those scoring at home, that means seven people other than me and my wife have taken the plunge.

By the way, if you're curious, or even interested, in becoming a fan, the best suggestion I can give for finding the Inside Edge PR fan page is to log into Facebook and type "Inside Edge PR" into the search box.

I am confident that within a few days, I'll have learned another, much more efficient route. And that brings to mind one of the inelegant messages I shared with those who jammed inside MSCM this morning: this social-media world is a continual journey of learning something, trying it out, seeing if it works, then moving on to the next thing.

Stay tuned for what tomorrow brings.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Five Stages Of Facebook Grief

On Tuesday, I will be giving a presentation to Oak Park-area business owners on the use of social media in business.

As part of my preparation, I was struck by the sense of dread that Facebook and its social-networking brethren routinely strike in the hearts of many business owners that I encounter.

Today, there are those who are kicking and screaming as they join Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media. Their behavior is marked by so much reluctance and trepidation that I couldn't help but create an adaptation of K├╝bler-Ross' Five Stages of Grief model.

What follows, then, are The Five Stages Of “Good Grief, Do I Really Need To Be on Facebook?”

1. Denial and Isolation.

At first, we tend to deny that the expansion of Facebook, from high school and college students, has taken place. We may withdraw from our usual social-networking contacts. This stage may last a few moments, or longer, especially if someone "pokes" us or tries to goad us into a virtual snowball fight.

2. Anger.

The grieving person may then be furious at Al Gore for inventing the Internet (even though he never said he did), or at the cyber-world, for letting online social interactions happen. He may be angry with himself for ever getting an e-mail account, even if, realistically, nothing could have stopped it.

3. Bargaining.

Now the grieving person may make bargains, such as this one: "If I join Facebook, can I at least stop hearing about this thing called Twitter?"

4. Depression.

When prompted by the ridiculously open-ended “What’s on your mind?” or the terse command "Write something," the person feels numb, although anger and sadness may remain underneath.

5. Acceptance.

This is when the anger, sadness and mourning have tapered off. The person simply accepts the reality that he will forevermore be in touch with hundreds, if not thousands, of people for the rest of his life. And what's more, he actually likes it.

He starts a Fan Page of an obscure 16th-century poet.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Provocative Keywords Help Spark Attention

What's in a name?

The ability to attract attention, for one thing.

This morning I was reviewing the 150-odd (some odder than others) videos on my YouTube channel.

Most of them stem from public-relations outreach I've povided for clients, such as Downtown Oak Park's mass dog wedding (a Guinness World Record attempt) in November 2008, I Do, Doggone It!

Continuing a pattern that emerged immediately after I uploaded those pooch-related videos nearly five months ago, the one with "Same-Sex Dog Marriages" in the title has easily outdistanced the other seven I Do, Doggone It! videos.

As of this morning, the same-sex clip (featuring my rather hoarse voice after a frenetic day of PR madness) had 1,318 views. By comparison, some of the other bow-vow clips, with not-so-provocative titles, are under 200 views, though a few are approaching 1,000.

How's this for an attention-grabbing title that may be in my YouTube channeling future: "AIG Bernie Madoff Rush Limbaugh Same-Sex Pro-Life Bailout Plan."

I should note, however, that the video would truly need to touch on all of the above-mentioned elements, perhaps a tongue-in-cheek first-person commentary that ties them all together (with extra-durable rope).

Provocatively named videos really ought to reflect the actual content of the video itself. Otherwise, you run a great risk in breeding resentment, which is typically not a very helpful PR tactic.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Decade of Self-Employment: My Top 10 List

Today marks the 10th anniversary of my last day as an employee.

After eight years at The Courier News in Elgin, Ill. (then a Copley Newspaper), I resigned on March 26, 1999 to pursue a freelance marketing and writing path. Over the past decade, I've been most fortunate, with encouragement and all manners of support from my fantastic wife, Bridgett, to be able to maintain my self-employed status.

Things haven't always worked out as I planned. In fact, it's usually turned out even better.

Oftentimes, that is because I was willing to listen to the marketplace when it told me that it wasn't interested in my ideas. Then, the marketplace would add, "But, hey, if you might be able to do XYZ, would you be interested?"

Almost always, whether it's providing marketing services for a couple looking to adopt a baby girl or helping a restaurant boost its sales, my answer has been, "You bet!"

I have never applied for a job, and I have never seriously thought of doing so. My entrepreneurial streak is too strong, and the wide-ranging work has just been too fun to ever look back.

Here, then, is a Top 10 List of Self-Employment Memories, listed in no particular order, over the past 10 years.

1. From 2000 to 2004, roving around the Midwest for Time magazine in pursuit of interviews with the likes of Tiger Woods, The Smiley Face Bomber's college buddies and basketball phenom LeBron James (as a high school senior and later during his rookie season in the NBA).

2. Covering a variety of towns and cities for the Chicago Tribune (1999-2005, with a little work thereafter). After the August 2003 birth of my twin children, Zachary and Maggie Rose, I would often type up my reports with one of them sleeping in my lap.

3. Moving my office from the living room to the second bedroom to Panera and, then, in June 2007, to my current "real office" location a few miles from home.

4. Joining the Oak Park-River Forest Chamber of Commerce in October 2005 to promote my personalized story service,
Your Front Page.

While the service has not quite captured the public's imagination (yet), that first Chamber meeting led to a great six-month gig as community relations liaison for Boston Market's healthier-food prototype experiment in River Forest.

5. In the summer of 2006, joining Oak Park Partners, a chapter of Business Networking International (BNI) whose purpose is to provide client referrals to one another.

The affiliation has surrounded me with top individuals who have not only referred numerous clients to me, but have also inspired me to develop myself professionally.

6. Realizing in late 2006 that, OK, I guess it was all right to call myself a publicist. After more than 20 years as a diehard journalist, this was no simple step. Of course, my entire Inside Edge philosophy revolves around the journalistic information-gathering and story-telling style.

7. Following a suggestion by a former editor, Scott Stone (now a Daily Herald VP) and creating a math literacy seminar for journalists, Go Figure: Making Numbers Count.

That move has sent me all around the country since 2001, training the media (usually at state press association conventions) as I share my passion for telling stories skillfully, ethically and responsibly. My next training is in eight days, at the New York Press Association convention in Saratoga Springs.

8. In October 1999, getting published in Sports Illustrated, the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. The brief item on the Home Run Power Ratio, a baseball statistic I created, provided me with a much-needed confidence boost.

9. In January 2007, catching on with Five Seasons Sports Club as the publicist for its Northbrook and Burr Ridge clubs, and immediately helping secure global coverage for a Guinness World Record attempt.

10. Delivering phone books one day in November 1999. I got a bonus for being extra-diligent in securing signatures from recipients!

I have certainly overlooked dozens of other worthy candidates. But there's always my Top 20 list, due for release on March 26, 2019.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Bounce-Back PR Tale, In More Ways Than One

Whenever I agree to represent a business, it must pass my "newsroom vet litmus test."

In other words, if I were writing for a newspaper or magazine and someone pitched the story to me, would I be genuinely interested in at least digging into story suggestions about this company?

In September, after a client, Robust Promotions of Villa Park, found me via my LinkedIn account, I knew in short order that the answer, in terms of its news potential, was a resounding "yes!"

So I was more than a little baffled by the media's luke-warm response to the firm's story, which teems with relevance and newsworthiness.

Over the past few years, Robust Promotions has helped nearly 100 restaurant chains boost sales via repeat business by creating innovative scratch-to-win cards.

Talk about a local small business making good--and playing a key role in helping numerous other businesses survive and even thrive amid these trying times. Fortunately, the Chicago Tribune's online user-generated adjunct website, Triblocal has emerged with a weekly print edition in 10 zones spanning 50 communities throughout the region.

This development has given more than a few of my releases a second bite at the media-coverage apple. This time around, the story got picked up. You can read about the piece on Triblocal's Villa Park community page. As of this writing, some 80 people have clicked on the story.

Or, if you are one of the roughly 13,000 Trib print edition subscribers in Elmhurst, Lombard or Villa Park, it's on page 5 of the March 19-25 Triblocal print edition.

Any Chicago-area business or group that is not factoring in the increasingly aggressive Triblocal into its media-outreach strategy, both online and in print, is squandering its external communications potential.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Versatile Pitches Provide Multiple PR Options

Whenever you can offer the media a story suggestion that has versatility--it can be a human interest feature, a health and wellness story, and a business piece, for example--then it provides you with bigger placement potential.

In other words, if a given outlet isn't interested in the story under Category A, then you still have a chance that it will be deemed a fit for Category B or C.

A recent news release that I developed for Five Seasons Sports Club in Burr Ridge fits this description. I wrote about a corporate wellness program that Five Seasons has launched, with the release detailing the experience that corporate neighbor Turtle Wax, based in Willowbrook, has enjoyed with the club.

You can read the release at Triblocal.com as well as see the Triblocal photo gallery I created.

Included in the story is a video of one of Turtle Wax's employees talking about how the program has helped improve his health. Check out the interview on YouTube here.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Social Media Create New Adoption Options

A recent CNN.com story on innovative social-media approaches to adopting children is just the latest example of how our world has drastically changed in recent years.

I've documented numerous examples, in this blog and elsewhere, that underscore how the collective "traditional" media is no longer the sole arbiter of what is newsworthy. (News flash! ANYONE can create their own printing press or video channel these days.)

Likewise, adoption agencies, all too many of which have financially preyed upon the hopes and dreams of those seeking to start families, are now far from the only game in town.

And that welcome development is thanks largely to sites like Facebook and YouTube and LinkedIn, as well as other sites that foster viral FOAFOAF (friend of a friend of a friend) communications.

I recently began helping a wonderful Chicago-area couple seeking to take this very path. They have two sons already (one biologically, one via adoption) and their heartfelt desire is to add a girl to their family.

More details to come, but in the meantime, if you know of anyone who may be a match for them, please shoot me an email at matt@insideedgepr.com or call me at 708-860-1380.

Monday, March 16, 2009

PR As Hoops: Following Your Own Shot

Playing basketball over the years, I've been pretty adept at offensive rebounding, even if I was no Dennis Rodman (pictured). Often, it's because I've known better than anyone else on the court exactly how that shot I just took was going to careen wildly off the rim.

I try to adopt the same mindset in life--following up with new acquaintances, old friends and assorted family members in my personal life and, of course, the media in my professional pursuits.

Once they say "yes" to a story, then there's a fair chance they'll say "sure, why not?" if I suggest a follow-up piece months or even years later.

When I was a newspaper reporter, a solid chunk of my work was following up on one story or another, whether it was my "Where Are They Now?" columns for The (Elgin, Ill.) Courier News in the early 1990s or keeping track of criminal cases, municipal matters or any variety of news threads that I, or even a colleague, had begun at some point in the past.

This all comes to mind on the heels of Windy City Sports'
recent feature story on Wayne Arner.

He is a member of Five Seasons Sports Club in Northbrook, a client of mine. There, Wayne has transformed his fitness level over the past 2 1/2 years from overweight and easily fatigued to his current stature as a rock-hard triathlete to be reckoned with.

What's so fun about Wayne's story is that it's far from over--he's just now beginning to hit his stride. And now that he's been featured in publications like Pioneer Press and Windy City Sports, and on sites like Triblocal.com, there's a natural media interest in checking in on how he's faring, in order to update readers.

I've promised Wayne we won't use up all of his 15 minutes of fame, but I'll do my best to fill up as much of that span as possible!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A First: My Numbers Cameo In GO Magazine

A few times over the years, I've pitched airline magazines with story ideas. Alas, none of those overtures have, um, gotten off the ground.

But I recently had the good fortune of being quoted in GO Magazine, AirTran Airways' inflight magazine.

Some of my observations about numbers, and their interplay with we humans, formed the basis for a sidebar ("Prime Numbers") that freelance journalist Geoff Williams wrote, accompanying his engaging main piece, "The Importance of Numbers: 5 Reasons You Will Read This Article."

To read the entire package, you can find the main story and sidebar in GO Magazine's online archives.

To see the sidebar as it appeared in print, click on the image that runs alongside this post.

For a sample of my numeracy writing, under my "Go Figure: Making Numbers Count" training program for journalists and other professionals, you can read this piece on the Inside Edge PR website's Resources page.

(Special thanks to Brooke Porter, GO Magazine's managing editor, for graciously providing me with the copy of the article and granting permission for me to blog about it.)

Friday, March 6, 2009

Hyper-Oprah Messaging A Sign of The Times

When I was starting out as a newspaper reporter, Ronald Reagan was in his first term as U.S. President, there were three main choices on television and “hyperlocal journalism” meant that I had a lot of energy pedaling my bicycle around town in pursuit of my next story for the Marshfield (Ma.) Mariner.

But now “hyperlocal” is part of our desperately fragmented communications culture. Media outlets, especially newspapers, are busily trying to outdo one another with coverage of your backyard—and if that’s not personal enough, maybe even that patch of dirt on the edge of your backyard (with photos and bar charts!).

Today’s Chicago Tribune included a piece by Bonnie Miller Rubin (“Pitch writ large aimed at Oprah”) that highlighted an advertising companion to this approach. Let’s call it Hyper-Oprahism.

A charitable organization that has tried to get her attention via the traditional route (pitching stories to her show’s producers for a decade) placed seven billboard ads that were addressed specifically to Oprah:

"Oprah, 3 million children with clefts need our help,” declares The Smile Train message. ”We need yours."

Though the gurus at Harpo Productions are still declining to profile the group, the Trib’s piece—and the guaranteed spin-off stories it will spawn—can’t help but boost the organization’s fund-raising efforts.

In the end, The Smile Train should be smiling even more broadly--and so will anyone who takes a cue from their out-of-the-box approach.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Art of Contacting Reporters By Phone

For the first time over a six-month span, encompassing story pitches for four different clients, I reached one particular reporter yesterday at the Chicago Sun-Times.

She had never responded to any of my prior messages, neither my well-crafted and eminently timely e-mails nor my professional and succint voicemails directing her attention to those e-mails.

Of course, when she picked up the phone this time around, I read her the riot act, chastising her for being so inconsiderate and failing to recognize a helpful publicist when one was right under her nose.

(If you believe that tale of mine, then let me recommend you trust all your life savings with my financial adviser, Bernie Madoff.)

In reality, after introducing myself to the reporter, I asked if she had 30 seconds to hear why I was touching base. Politely, she replied that she needed to make a phone call right away.

"I understand entirely," I said. "I just wanted to let you know that I'll be sending you a story idea that I think you'd be interested in. I'll follow up with you another time."

Before I hung up, she hastened to make sure I knew her e-mail address.

This vignette underscores three points I make regularly to my clients, as well as audiences that attend my PR workshops:

1. As the individual making the story suggestion, you want to get off the phone before the reporter, editor or producer really wishes you were out of their face.

This no-nonsense, fast-paced style respects the reality of the media member's time, and it sets you apart from the many long-winded blowhards that place a stress on their already-burdened schedule. Asking if a reporter is on deadline signals to them that you know their world, and sets you on a path toward establishing that you are a peer worthy of respect and consideration.

2. Rarely do you get a reporter to agree to pursue a story in the phone call. He or she will always want to review more information before making such a decision.

So the phone call's purpose is to plant a promising seed (that a follow-up e-mail will nurture in short order), not bring home the harvest a few moments after the seed has gone into the soil.

3. Except in rare instances, whether your call results in a conversation or only a voicemail, always be ready to follow up immediately (within 60 seconds is a good idea) with a well-written news pitch or release.

Securing media coverage is the result of winning small victories along the way, and one such triumph is having the reporter refrain from deleting your e-mail without giving it more than a glance.

If they recognize the e-mail as coming from a professional who also took a few moments to phone them, then your story's chances of moving beyond the embryonic stage climb exponentially.

For related PR advice, see Inside Edge PR Tips: 4 Myths To Combat Along the Way.

A Story About Unintended Consequences

I am in the midst of outreach with the media about a story looking at unintended consequences--how the "Back to Sleep" campaign to prevent SIDS-related deaths has contributed to an uptick in "flat head syndrome, or plagiocephaly.

A portion of the effort, which I'm undertaking with Plunkett & Associates on behalf of Scheck & Siress, is online at Triblocal.com.